Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dreams of 2018

By NiNY

As it turns out, my 2018 Winter Olympic dream may not be dead. Not that it was that alive to begin with, but I had given it up for dead a while ago. See, I had initially thought that the host country received an auto-bid into the hockey tournament, but then I had learned that Korea was unlikely to pursue an auto-bid for 2018 since their national team isn't very strong. Whatever there is to be gained by having a team in one of the most-visible events, how much of that do you lose if that team loses 500-0 to the likes of Canada?

Well, it turns out maybe the door isn't completely shut.

As Sean Leahy of PuckDaddy reports, the IIHF would like to see Korea improve its standing in international hockey in order to consider giving it an auto-bid. That's promising. However, the full context of the report is '...because they just stunk it up royally in an IIHF Division 1, Group A tournament on home ice - going win-less against the likes of Japan, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Ukraine.' But, the language clearly implies that Korea is trying to earn entry to the 2018 Olympic men's ice hockey tournament - and that they still have a shot.

Which means, *I* still have a shot.

The country of my birth (and my blood) is currently ranked 23rd in the IIHF men's rankings. By virtue of their aforementioned performance at the 2014 IIHF Division 1, Group A championship, they have been relegated down to Division 1, Group B. Their next IIHF world championship is April 13-19, 2015, in the Netherlands. Besides Korea (23rd), Group B is comprised of Great Britain (22nd), Netherlands (25th), Lithuania (26th), Croatia (28th), and Estonia (29th).

Leahy also recently reported that Korea have hired former NHLer, and Stanley Cup winner, Jim Paek as their new men's head coach. I don't know what this means for me, specifically, but I can't imagine it has hurt my standing.

Which, by the way, is non-existent.

But, let's look at what we know. According to Korea's country profile on the IIHF site, there are 2,100 registered ice hockey players in Korea. 1,796 of them are junior players. 120 are male players, which as a category that is distinct from "junior" players, I take to mean there are 120 male adult players in Korea. So, let's say 1/6 of those players are goalies. That means, at worst, I'm the 21st-best Korean male goalie. In the world. *mind blown*

The goal for Korea's men's team, according to Leahy, is to improve their international ranking to 18th.

So, here's the game plan. I would like to make the team that competes in that April, 2015 tournament in the Netherlands. I know the odds are against Korea fielding a team in 2018, and they're even more against me being on that team. But here's the thing: we're (my family and I) going to that Oly. We've already decided on it. I think there's a great story to be told here. Kid born in Korea, orphaned, adopted by Americans, grows up in hockey-mad Minnesota, has cup of coffee with the men's national team, then returns to Korea for the first time since he was a baby, with his family, to see the country of his birth through the lens of a Winter Olympics. I can picture Bob Costas turning it over to Mary Carillo with the story.

But this isn't about some 15 minutes of fame. This is about a man going "home", with no memory of the country of his birth, seeing it for the "first" time. Seeing it also through the eyes his own children, themselves half-Korean, for the first time. The hockey part is merely the angle from which the story begins to be told. It's a story that I'd like to experience and tell.

So, anyone have Jim Paek's number?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Summer Project: Advanced Stats

By NiNY

My summer project is going to be to really get under the hood on advanced stats/analytics in hockey. Like I've said: professionally, I operate in a world of using stats to tell stories and analyze situations. I'm not resistant to the idea of advanced analytics in hockey. I just haven't been sold on the value of the metrics that are currently in vogue. So I want to understand them really well, to see if I need to come to a more-informed opinion.

I started out today by finding an article on a Jets blog about what Corsi is and is not. It was a very good article: rationally laid out, and well-stated, arguments. It did not seem to have a pro-advanced analytics agenda – just more of a “here’s the deal, for better or for worse” attitude, which I respect.

Corsi: Defined

Corsi is simply the differential between shots (attempted) for and against, typically in even-strength situations. It can be applied at the team or player level, for a given game or number of games. If the Wild takes 6 shots at/on goal and Chicago takes 3 while Mikko is on the ice, Mikko has a +3 Corsi. Corsi counts all shot attempts, regardless of the outcome (blocked, missed the net, on goal, in goalPretty intuitive, makes sense. Glad we're tracking that. All aboard so far.

Corsi: Applications, and a bit about Fenwick

The article then says that "Corsi can proxy scoring chances reasonably well". Okay, again, I don't debate that. Simply, it seems to me to be extremely rare that a team can register a scoring chance without first attempting a shot on goal. Sure, someone could suffer a Skoula moment that could lead to a crazy chance without someone taking a shot at the goal, but those are so rare as to be clear outliers. So, yeah, the team that wins the shots battle should come out on top. The higher the Corsi for a player, the greater the likelihood that he was on the ice for goals-for instead of goals-against.

The point is made that Corsi lends itself to analysis about possession and territorial advantage. That’s a little thinner, I think. Because not all shot attempts come after the same amount of possession or even zone time. Think of a team that isn’t supporting the puck in the offensive zone, getting those “one-and-done” chances and then retreating back on defense. They could win the Corsi for that game, and it wouldn’t give you an accurate depiction of possession or territorial advantage. Or if team A gets pinned in its zone for a while, but doesn’t give up a shot attempt, then gets a breakaway and goes in for a shot attempt. In other words, there are normal situations that occur within a game that undermine the correlation between Corsi and possession and territorial advantage. But, I’m still willing to say that the middle of the bell curve of outcomes will support a pretty strong correlation between these things.

Then we get into Fenwick, which is Corsi net of blocked shots. So, the more shots you take that get to or around the net (instead of getting blocked on the way) vs. the other team, the better. Fair enough.

I found other articles by the likes of Cam Charron and Jesse Spector that delved deeper in the genesis and history of Corsi, which were also very interesting.

Additive Applicability Challenges

But here’s where I think the breakdown in additive applicability to the broader game of hockey starts to come into play. Corsi grew out of Jim Corsi’s desire to track events within a game that would cause a goaltender to react physically. He made the novel leap that such events are not solely manifested by shots on goal/goals, but also by shots attempted. I play goalie, granted at the beer league level, and this kind of thinking warms the cockles of my heart. But, lots of things occur during a game that cause me, as a goalie, to move – many of which occur with or without a shot attempt associated with them. Now, I understand you can’t wrap everything into a metric like this. There has to be a line, and making that line shot attempts makes good sense. I’m just saying that, when you extrapolate this beyond the goalie to the broader game, its effectiveness starts to fray at the edges a bit. Again, it’s not even that I don’t see a correlation to things like scoring chances or even wins and losses, it’s that I don’t see an added level of insight to those things beyond what we get with simple shots for vs. shots against.

Data

So, I ran the numbers for the Wild’s 2013-2014 season, using extraskater.com as my source. What I came up with was pretty interesting.

W L O.S Gms WPCT
When Corsi Positive 13 12 8 33 39.39%
When Corsi Negative 26 14 6 46 56.52%
When Fenwick Positive 15 13 9 37 40.54%
When Fenwick Negative 24 14 6 44 54.55%
When SOG* Positive 14 13 9 36 38.89%
When SOG* Negative 18 13 6 37 48.65%

Corsi Even+Pos 16 13 7 36 44.44%
Fenwick Even+Pos 18 12 8 38 47.37%
SOG* Even+Pos 22 14 9 45 48.89%
*SOG = Shots on Goal

The preceding data shows the Wild’s record (win, loss, overtime/shootout loss) when they had a positive or negative Corsi, Fenwick or simple shots rating. The upper section of data show the results with a positive or negative differential only. The lower section of data show the results with an even OR positive differential, or a negative differential.

The thesis was that Corsi and Fenwick do a good job of indicating outcomes, and a better job than traditional statistics (such as simple SOG differential). The conclusion, from this sample set, debunks that thesis in two ways.

First, a positive Corsi differential only correlated to a 39.39% winning percentage. A positive SOG differential correlated to a 38.89% winning percentage. That’s a wash. A positive Fenwick differential correlated to a 40.54% winning percentage – a little better result than Corsi, relative to straight SOG.

Second, a negative Corsi or Fenwick differential, the thesis would follow, would indicate that the Wild trailed in chances, possession and territorial advantage, all of which would seem to lead to the analysis that the Wild would be more likely to lose those games in which their Corsi or Fenwick differential was negative. The data proves otherwise. In fact, the Wild had a significantly better winning percentage when their Corsi differential was negative (56.52%) than when it was positive (39.39%). The Fenwick data show the same thing: a better winning percentage when the differential was negative (54.55% than positive (40.54%) . The same basic relative outcomes hold for the SOG differentials, proving both that Corsi and Fenwick are no better at predicting, or correlating to, wins than simple SOG and that Corsi, Fenwick and SOG are lousy predictors of outcomes in general.

Adding in the outcomes where the differential was even to the outcomes where the differential was positive moves the data even more in favor of SOG being at least as good a metric than Corsi and Fenwick for predicting wins.

A Word About Sample Size

When you challenge the advanced analytics set on their thesis, sooner or later they trot out sample size as a limitation. It’s funny because they don’t seem to have an issue with a small sample size when the data work for them, but it’s definitely an issue when the data work against them.

There can be no doubt that even an 82-game sample size is sub-optimal. For the record, extraskater.com was giving me trouble going back farther than this season, so I will continue to try to add to the data set for the Wild. So, before the advanced stats guys jump all over me, I acknowledge this sample size is small. I think you can make the argument that you could either go insane trying to establish what an appropriate sample size is, and also that each roster is unique (and rosters are constantly in flux due to injuries, line changes, etc) so maybe a full season is a reasonable sample size. But, I know sample size is going to be brought up.

Conclusion

By way of a conclusion, I am not willing to say I have concluded anything. The fact is I would like to get more data. But people should also recognize that as you add to the sample size you invite the introduction of additional variables that could limit the applicability of the results.

I came into this thinking that advanced stats don’t tell me anything that elementary stats already told me. I have not seen anything that would make me think otherwise, to this point.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

TDI May Day Version (Also, Wild Wins!)

By NiNY

Series victory version, of our "If you give us five minutes, we'll give you the Wild" micro-podcast format.

Topics discussed:

*Turning point of the series
*Yeo's post-game comments in the room
*Rivalry with Colorado

Wild Defeats Avs, Series Thoughts

By NiNY

In the end I think this series was about experience and depth. The Wild just had a little more of both, and was able to take advantage of those differences when it mattered the most. Colorado probably has more top-end talent than Minnesota. I do not think we have the guns to match what MacKinnon (as sure a star in the making as exists in the NHL right now), Landeskog, Duchene and Stastny can bring. And O'Reilly is no slouch either, although he is really cast more in the Wild player mold of sub-elite offensive talent rounded out by excellent three-zone tenacity. With Barrie organizing from the back, you do wonder if either of these past two games would have ended up differently.

But, where the Avs were really a one-line team until Duchene came back, and then a one-plus line team when he came back , the Wild got more contributions throughout their lineup. The goals from Nino and Heatley last night, for example. Colorado had nine forwards finish with a total of 43 points. Minnesota had 11 forwards finish with a total of 50 points. Both teams' defenses contributed 12 points.

Put another way, Suter was the highest-scoring defenseman for the Wild, with four points in seven games. He currently stands 8th on the team in playoff scoring. Holden was the highest-scoring defenseman for the Avs, with five points in seven games. He currently stands 5th on the team in playoff scoring. (Barrie finished with two points in two-and-a-half games, for what it's worth.) You know who has the best plus/minus on the Wild right now? Heatley (+5). I know, I'm surprised, too. This was a very close series, and the point is the Wild got just enough additional scoring depth to win.

As far as experience, the Wild started with more recent playoff experience (from last year), but then also learned and drew on experience gained early in the series, and put it to work at the end. Again, we are talking incrementally here, as close as this series obviously was. But overcoming four one-goal deficits in a game seven is pretty remarkable. Cuts both ways (you gave up the lead four times!), but the Wild just was not a team that has that kind of mental fortitude - until lately. Interestingly, where the Avs had a decided experience advantage was in goal, and Varlamov could not protect four leads last night. Obviously some of Avs goals were stoppable, and I am not saying the Wild won the goaltending match-up so much as they survived a shootout. But you put a couple defensemen (Barrie and ?) on that Avs team and look out.

And, as good a job as I thought Patrick Roy did, I thought Yeo was able to adapt better over the course of the series. Hey, Yeo's team was the only one to win on the road (granted he had one more kick at that can than Roy did). I was impressed with Roy's demeanor and ability to motivate his men to carry out his game plan, in general. I was a Patrick Roy, the goalie, fan - arrogance included. But I'll admit I was surprised he has been as effective as he's been as a coach. But maybe Yeo's ability to draw on last season's (brief) playoffs gave him just that much more of an edge?

And I have been harsh on Yeo a lot in this space, and elsewhere. But he has really impressed me since the calendar turned over the 2014. And there can be no debating that he has this team playing with more poise and confidence than I have maybe ever seen from a Wild team. At this point I have to think he is going to get a new contract from the Wild, and he has earned it.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

No really, you can call this season a success

What metric do you use to determine if your team's season is a success?

I admit, I've struggled with this. In my gut, I see this season as a success, but how to put it out there as an unassailable point?

Well, I can't. All I can do is make the case as best I can, and here it is:

This season's Wild team earned the second highest number of points that any Wild team has earned (98) and won the third most games ever (43). Sure, scoring went down, but here's what I think is an important metric: For the first time since Jacques Lemaire coached the team, the Wild scored more goals than their opposition.

Only four times have the Wild allowed fewer goals. (I'm not counting 2013, because that would have been 217 goals against over a full schedule.)

But, statistics shmatistics. Metrics shmetrics.

This Wild team has grown this year, and that's what I've been feeling in my gut. When the Wild were in a swoon and Mike Yeo could hear Craig Leipold sharpening the axe, Yeo basically called in his team and said "Fuck it." He didn't want them to win for him. Instead, he let it all hang out and he let his team figure it out while he pulled the strings in the background. And that's what a great magician does, he distracts you while quietly pulling a hamster out of his ass.


And it's not just Mike Yeo that's been successful this year. Yeah, he did a great job with what he had, but it wasn't just Yeo that grew this year, it was the players and "the team" that grew.

And I'll grant you that the Wild should have competed with Chicago and St Louis for domination of the Central Division. Sure, the Wild should have done better than another wild card berth.

But that's why the play the games, right? And maybe if the Wild had steamrolled the division without having the setbacks of December, the team wouldn't have had the necessary growth and gotten bounced in the first round again. (Not to say it won't happen tonight, but I'll take a 7 game loss in a great, tight series over a 5 games and out over a team that vastly overpowers the Wild.)


So, yeah, I'd call this season a success.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Not Much Game 6 History For Wild

By NiNY

The Wild has made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times now, over their thirteen-season lifespan. Their all-time series record is 2-4. So, when looking for trends, or historical tidbits, or (okay) blog filler, there just isn't a whole hell of a lot to draw on. The Wild has only been swept in one of those series (Western Conference Finals, vs. Anaheim, 2003), but how have they done in game sixes?

The Wild been in three game sixes, all-time, and has amassed (using the word loosely, I know) a 2-1 record in those three games.

The first two were during the magical run in 2003. In the Western Conference Quarterfinals they dispatched Colorado (Richard Park) in game six at the X in thrilling 3-2 OT form, and put a pretty good hurting on Vancouver (Cloutier) in game six (5-1) of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Then, in 2008, they lost game six in Denver 2-1, as the Avs finished off the division champion Wild in the Western Conference Quarters.

The current team has.....absolutely nothing to do with that 2003 OR 2008 team, so this is truly an academic exercise. But it is also sort of interesting how much of the Wild's (meager) playoff history is tied to the Avs. They have a 1-1 all-time series record against Colorado. That comeback series win in 2003, given the perceived disparity between the two rosters, and ending Roy's career, is one that any franchise would relish for a long time (and to think they turned around and did it again against Vancouver - truly a special run). And then the disappointment of losing to the Avs after winning the first and, to date, only division championship. And, of course, last year going to Denver to win game 82 to submit to the beating by Chicago sneak into the playoffs.

The Wild has also played two series against Anaheim (0-2) so this series will put Colorado in the lead for most playoff series against the Wild. And they have a 1-1 record against Colorado in game sixes, with a rubber game coming tonight.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wild Youth Being Served

by NiNY

Do not be surprised if the Wild fails to win the Stanley Cup this season. Sorry to be a downer. In the first place, there are some teams that are likely to be in their way that actually have a viable defense, unlike Colorado.

But I am still giddy this morning, and here is why:

Granlund, Coyle, Haula, and Kuemper.

You have to lose to learn how to win. Last playoffs the Wild lost alright, but the losing effort began before the playoffs even started with the way they backed into the dance. This year they took a step forward, they learned from that experience and went into the playoffs playing their best hockey of the season. But it wasn't until early in game three that I felt the Wild, as a team, really started playing playoff hockey. That nasty, ugly, growling, spitting, playoff hockey.

They got there - following none other than Matt Cooke, who came out and set a tone early in game three with some hits and grit (unfortunately we all know where Matt took it to, and that sucks, but...) - and they have stayed there. Okay, the goals have not come, but that is even more encouraging: they have not become disheartened or distracted. Indeed they have buckled down even further; applied themselves even more. This collection of players is now fully aware that they are capable of playing playoff hockey. That represents another step in the right direction.

These kids, with the Ninos, and Brodins, and Zuckers, and Folins, and Dumbas, etc. with or behind them, are increasing their appreciation of how they need to play when it counts, and building their confidence that they can perform to that level. That is huge.

So, what if they lose a gut-wrenching game seven? Well, if we accept that they were not going to win the Cup this year anyway, then that becomes the touchstone moment that they can go to in their memory over and over again. "We could have beaten those guys." As they rip off another set in the gym over the summer. Again, and again, and again, until they tear the picture of that loss off the mirror, or finally emerge out of the sewer pipe, a stronger, more-focused group of individuals, laser locked on that goal, and filled with the confidence that they can achieve it. I do not think the Wild is that team yet. But they are becoming that team, and that makes me very happy. The only indication we had that they were on the road to becoming that team under DR was him telling us they could. Actually seeing it, that is considerably more preferable and meaningful.

I have to think this is what got Parise and Suter so jazzed up about signing here. That these kids were but a short distance from becoming the younger element of a core around which true contenders are built. Zach and Ryan signed for 13 years. That tells me they were willing to accept that it might be a couple years of continued growth before they achieved contender status, which is pretty much exactly how it is playing out.

Thinking back to the start of last season, watching Granlund struggle to acclimate to the NHL game - to where he has been the past two games (not to mention the second half of this regular season) - is astonishing. Obviously he had it in him, physically and skill-wise. But confidence can be harder to build up than muscle tissue.

Coyle's personal arc this season has also been remarkable. He struggled this season from the early injury, got bounced around a fair bit, but has ascended out of that to where he is now a bona fide threat in this playoffs. We have been dying for a power forward on this team since Latendresse gave us that one great stretch. Charlie looks like that guy.

Haula gets a little too much love from the provincials for my liking, but that does not take away from what he can do. His speed is a singular weapon on our team. But it is also his nose for the net, and his head for the game that has me thinking he could be our version of a Detroit late-round diamond in the rough.

And Kuemper. From the Toronto game early this season to when he took his turn at saving the season in goal, to how he has come in and played over the past three games against Colorado, is just tremendous. I am not sure I would say the Wild has ever had an elite goalie. They have had average goalies who have played well, and benefited from a goalie-friendly system aplenty. Kuemper might be that elite goalie we have never enjoyed here.

I have said all along that I expected a first-round series win this season, but that I would not necessarily panic if that did not come to fruition - depending on how it played out. Seeing the growth and maturation of our younger players, and the steps the entire team has taken toward contention, I do not have any reason to panic, regardless of how the season ends for the Wild.

TDI 042514

By NiNY

The Wild won. We podcasted about it.


Ok so about 20 seconds got cut off at the end. It was mostly me wondering what happened to the other guys who got cut off. You didn't miss much, in other words.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Stuff and Stuff 4/24/14

By NiNY

*The home team is 13-1 so far in the Western conference quarterfinal series (where you at, LA?).

*Say this about MA Fleury: anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Ugly game last night, kid.

*League discipline issues: stop being surprised when they continue to be inconsistent or even downright hypocritical. This is how it is. Going nuts about it every time is just a waste of energy.

*That Jamie Benn goal last night was a thing of beauty. What a goal.

*The league needs Canada to have something break its way in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In unrelated news, the Habs swept the Bolts.

*Speaking of that, Ben Bishop definitely earned some team MVP votes simply by not playing in the playoffs.

*We've been discussing this over at www.gtrcmbshp.com but, is there such a thing as too much rest in the playoffs? I wonder if the Habs coaches are wishing they had less than ~10 days to keep their team sharp before they take on the Bruins (sorry, Red Wings fans)?